I have been asked at clinics about mouthpieces and how many are the right amount to play or if you should play everything on one mouthpiece.  I have read that Miles Davis played the same mouthpiece he got in junior high his entire career.  I have also played with the magnificent lead, jazz, commercial player, Lew Soloff who actually had a mouthpiece belt so he could easily grab a different mouthpiece for almost every other phrase!  At the time he and I played together I was of the Miles Davis mindset and couldn’t believe Lew could change pieces and not need two weeks to adjust!  It got me thinking though and what has ended up working for me is somewhere in the middle.

I am not interested in getting into the science, numbers, algorhythms, alfa angles, what have you, of the myriad of mouthpiece choices out there.  My intention with this article is to talk about organizing and categorizing ones’ mouthpiece choices.

As a teacher, I tell my students that mouthpiece choice is a personal one and somewhat like shoes.  “My shoes fit me but might not fit you.”  Also, I could probably go through life with one pair of shoes but it is a lot easier for me to have work boots, dress shoes, running shoes, etc.  And, since I perform in a number of different styles and venues, having a few different mouthpieces to choose from helps me achieve the different sounds I’m looking for.

I have basically two groups of mouthpieces; Classical = 1’s and Jazz/Commercial = 2’s.  I have three 2-rimmed mouthpieces with different cup depths that span 2fl (flugle-like cup) to a 2D for lead or show work.  In the middle is my 2BC is for my general jazz playing which is primarily small group work.  For classical, my Bb is a 1BC and my C is a 1 ¼.  I like having a mouthpiece for each Bb and C so I can switch between those horns faster.  Plus, I think these particular mouthpieces, and their subtle variations, suites the “character” of the particular instrument.  In some cases (like brass quintet) it has been helpful to “prepare” one horn with a mute and lay the other on my lap.  Other times, awkward fingering passages have been made easier by being able to quickly switch between the two horns.  Those have been rare instances but it’s been helpful to just pick up the horn and play it without fussing with the mouthpiece.  Even when people like to play the same size mouthpiece for C and Bb, I don’t understand why they don’t just buy two of the same mouthpieces for the reasons I just mentioned.

For my flugel horn I use a 2fl for jazz playing and a 1fl for classical.  Again, when I’m on a jazz gig my trumpet and flugel have the same rim and if I play flugel in brass quintet all my large horns have the same rim.

There is what seems to be a bit of a contradiction in my piccolo mouthpiece choice, but I have what I think is a logical justification.  I have two mouthpieces for my piccolo, a 3p and 2p.  I like the sound on the 2p a little better and use it when I am not playing any other trumpet on that program.  However, most of the time that I use my piccolo I am also playing my C or Bb on the same concert or program.  So, being able to switch from a large horn to piccolo and back is a big consideration for me.  My previous logic of playing 1-rims for classical work would have me playing a 1-rim piccolo mouthpiece for quintet work or a recital so I would always be on the same rim.  However, 1-sized piccolo mouthpieces don’t give me the sound and flexibility I’m looking for in a piccolo.  1-rims have also posed endurance issues for my piccolo playing.  I have found that going from my large-horn 1’s to a 3p is easier for my face than going from my 1’s to a 2-size rim.  There are such differences in embouchure and air when playing piccolo that I think the more drastic change in rim size helps my mind and body make the adjustment from the large horns to the piccolo more successfully.

The summary of this is to find the rim that is comfortable for the genre you are playing then adjust the cup depth to create the different shades of tonal color or register ease within that genre.  For me the “bite”, or the round-ness or sharp-ness of the rim, affects the clarity of articulation and slotting and also the general comfort.  A sharper bite gives me a cleaner articulation and better slotting but is less comfortable.  A softer rim is more comfortable and the slotting is more “slippery” which gives me more overall flexibility.  Personally I prefer the softer rims for jazz playing and the sharper for classical work.

These are just my thoughts on the subject of mouthpiece sizes and usage and should be considered just that; my thoughts.  This is the system that I have finally found that works for me, and the varied musical situations that I find myself in.  It has taken me many years of experimentation and fighting wrong mouthpieces to finally get comfortable with this setup and I hope this might save some of you some time and mouthpiece expense.